“The roar of mine will go by the soar of my kite,
Higher and higher like the spirits of the season, That changes from shiver to summer,
Will shall fill the sky with blazing flight, That fight to stay high till the night.”
From flying kites in Delhi on Indian Independence Day to getting to watch International kite masters fly their kites at the International Kite Festival in Gujarat, I loved seeing them fly. The sense of freedom and joy it fills within people like me has a lot to do with as to why it is such a big eve in India.
Uttarayan is celebrated when the seasons change from winter to summer, as per the Hindu calendar.
It is that time of the year when the harvest season starts to approach and is called Makar Sankranti then. It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara (Capricorn). The festival is known by various names in different Indian states.
Since 1989, Gujarat has celebrated the International Kite Festival. The events host some master kite flyers from all over the world.
Glimpses of the International Kite Festival in which I got invited by the Gujarat Tourism.
Colourful like the VIBGYOR, some round, oblong, other crazy shapes, one resembling Chinese dragons, a few from India proclaiming the country’s name in bold letters; all these interesting creations in the sky were made with carefully thought aerodynamics.
Flyers were waiting for the wind since the morning and finally when the moment arrived, with a little hard work of setting, positioning, pulling and pushing, these sculpture-like kites added the missing puzzle to the celebrations of Uttarayan.
Note the Japanese Rokkaku Dako (vertically stretched hexagon with a four-point bridle) in crimson red, colourful delta-wing kite on the extreme right.
The grand welcome of these participants in the form of a parade was a sight to behold.
The venue also hosts various local vendors and artists. I ended up buying a few pieces as well.
When: 6th January to 14th January
Timing: 10 am-4 pm
Where: Sabarmati River Front, Ashram Road
On the 13th and 14th January each year, people gather on their terraces to fly kites and compete with the neighbours. The art of kite flying is what makes someone the flyer of the day. The amount of thread to let loose from the spool (firkin) and the right amount of tension along with an accurate method of tying the kite to the thread; the process is an art.
Pic credits: Anjana https://instagram.com/p0etography?igshid=z8ox18it9snf
On the streets of Ahmedabad, one can also see the making of manja (kite thread). A mixture of glass and glue is coated over the thread to make the manja as sharp as possible in order to cut rival flyer’s kite.
Tips: Do visit the Kite museum in Paldi to witness a collection of unique kites.
GOING BACK IN TIME: BALASINORE DINOSAUR PARK AT RAIOLI, BALASINOR
My expression in the photograph perfectly describes my situation on learning about the presence of a dinosaur fossil park in India.
YES! Indeed, it exists, in Gujarat, near Ahmedabad.
In 1981, Raioli was discovered as a major fossil park in India by Geological Survey of India. A new species fossil was also found, Rajasaurus Narmadensis by Jeffrey Wilson in 2003.
The 72-hectares fossil park in Mahisagar district of Gujarat is globally acclaimed to host dinosaur hatcheries where thousands of eggs were laid by different types of titanosaurs.
Raioli: The Third Largest Dinosaur Graveyard of the World
A fossil is any preserved remains, impressions or any trace of once-living thing from a past geological age.
RAIOLI: THE NEST SITE OF DINOS
Since river Narmada was rich in minerals, Raioli village was a favourable hatching site for these dinosaurs. Also, Raioli is the third-largest excavation site for dinosaur fossils in the whole world.
The museum is a well-designed one where you get to learn about each type of dinosaur specie found here ages ago. The audio-visual platforms give a deeper insight into the actual scale of these creatures.
Museum Timings: 10am-6pm (Closed on Mondays)
Distance from Ahmedabad: 100 km
MAHATMA GANDHI MUSEUM IN RAJKOT
This school-turned-museum now houses Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life in a beautiful and creative manner via various audio-visual exhibits.
Alfred High School (also known as Mohandas Gandhi Vidhyalaya or Kathiawar High School) was opened in 1883 with mere 36 students, saw Gandhiji graduating from it in 1887. The school was in shambles in recent years thus attracting attention by the tourism board and the municipal corporation. Soon in a joint decision, the students were shifted to the Lal Bahadur Shashtri school and this school was restored as a museum and as a tribute to the Father of the Nation.
Some of the exhibition rooms were in direct sync with Gandhiji’s ways of non-violence which played a major role in giving India its freedom from the Britisher colonisers.
The 39 galleries of the museum provide an enriching experience of his life and the ideologies he lived by.
Timings: 10am-5pm (Closed on Monday)
The museum is in Rajkot city which is located at a distance of 1.8 kilometers from Rajkot JN Railway station.
SPOTTING ASIATIC MALE LION IN GIR NATIONAL PARK
Gir Forest is a vital protected area in Asia because of its biodiversity. This is the only place in Asia which is home to Asiatic lions.
I have been to various National parks in India with a dream of spotting at least one major wild animal.
Count of my visits kept rising inversely to the number of my spottings in these wildlife sanctuaries or national parks until I made it to Sasan Gir in Gujarat.
We were ready with our binoculars, cameras and guides in our jeeps to venture into the innermost parts of the Gir forest which is full of the intriguing stories of man and wild’s co-existence.
While entering the forest I also got to see a railway line through which when the train passes, it slows down to take care of the passing animals.
We were soon in the inner most part of the forest and the next few minutes got etched in my memory forever. Two Asiatic male lions were bathing in the sun. Our jeep made it in time to see them moving from the same spot to the interiors of the jungle while also passing by at a distance of just two-feet from our jeep.
Most of the jeep passengers were busy recording the moment and I was just awe-struck and scared at the same time by this beast’s presence near me.
HOW WAS HE CALM? WHY HE DIDN’T ATTACK ANY OF US? DO THEY GENERALLY ATTACK A LOT OF PEOPLE IN GIR? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
All these questions started appearing in my conscious as soon as the engine of the jeep came to life. I was then made aware of the STORIES OF CO-EXISTENCE BETWEEN MAN AND THE WILD IN SASAN GIR.
Villagers residing inside Gir forest share a special relationship with its wild creatures.
They tell the tales of walking along with these lions without both of them disturbing each other.
Sometimes when these hungry creatures end up eating villager’s livestock, even then these people don’t kill these animals for the sake of revenge. They have developed a feeling of sacrifice and sharing a space which can only be survived through when these animals are left to live.
The lions in return respect the villagers equally. Villagers told me that these creatures don’t disturb them especially when they are on their way to the temple which is just in the middle of the forest.
The Maaldharis, the semi-nomadic tribal herdsmen who live in the sanctuary, also share a special relationship with these animals.
A family of Spotted deer
We soon then reached Kamleshwar dam (Lifeline of Gir) which is the biggest reservoir in this area.
Other carnivorous animals that are found in Gir forest are Indian leopard, jungle cat, striped hyena, Golden jackal Indian grey mongoose and Ruddy mongoose and honey badger.
Later in the night, I got to see the making of jaggery at a small local factory.
Best time to visit Gir: Gir is closed from 16 June to 15 October every year.
December and March are the best months to visit Gir.
To book online permits for Gir forest, which I recommend you to do, use this link.
How to reach Gir?
Distances: 55 km from Junagadh city, 156 km from Rajkot
Gir is 348 km from Ahmedabad and it takes 7 hours to reach Gir from here. Either take a private bus from Paldi bus stop or a train till Junagadh or Sasan railway station.
From Somnath to Gir National Park: The distance is 50 km and it takes about 1 hour. GSRTC buses and a few private buses ply between the route to Gir from Somnath and vice versa.
By Rail: Closest railway station is Sasan which is 40 km away.
Nearest airport to Gir is the Diu Airport. Else you can also start your journey from Ahmedabad or Rajkot. From Diu airport, Sasan Gir is 110 km and will take 2 hours to be covered.
Probable Route Options
- Diu-Somnath-Sasan Gir
- Ahmedabad-Rajkot-Junagadh-Sasan Gir-Somnath
BALKA TIRTH: THE PLACE WHERE LORD KRISHNA WAS SHOT WITH HUNTER’S ARROW
In Prabhas Patan village, a mythologically significant place exists which is known as Balka Tirth. It is believed that Lord Krishna was shot with a hunter’s arrow at this place. His death marks the end of the Dvapara Yug. Also, at Balka Tirth, the end of Yadukul was noted.
The Balka Tirth Temple
Tip: Do visit the scenic Madhavpur beach which is 70 km away from Junagadh.
UPARKOT FORT, JUNAGADH GUJARAT
The Mauryan king Chandragupta built this marvel. The massive fort was captured several times.
The Neelam and Manek guns came from Diu when the Turks left them after their defeat to the Portuguese.
The Girnar mountain is a sacred place for both Hindus and Jains and is approached by 9999 steps.
The Jama Masjid near the fort is now in ruins. Its octagonal courtyard with a forest of pillars is a spectacle to look at.
Adi Kadi Vav and Navghan Kuvo are the step-wells that are located in the same complex.
BUDDHIST CAVES, UPARKOT, JUNAGADH
These man-made caverns, which were carved in 2nd–3rd century A.D, are known to be made as the resting place for monks. The upper floor has a kunda or bathing area and the other two floors have resting rooms and seating spaces with chaitya windows, Vihara cells and exquisitely carved pillars.
THE KHAPRA KODIYA CAVES, JUNAGADH
These are the oldest in the Buddhist cave group around this region. Being carved under Ashoka’s reign, they are considered as the earliest monastic settlement of Junagadh.
Baba Pyara caves is another set of caves near these.
The temple is believed to be the first among the twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. The temple was plundered more than 10 times by Mughal rulers and several other invaders.
It is built in Chaulukya style of temple architecture which originated in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The location of the temple is remarkable. There is no landmass along a straight line between the western seashore from here till Antarctica. After the shrine visit, one can stand facing the vast ocean. The sunset looks spectacular from here.
How to Reach Somnath Temple From Ahmedabad?
By Road: From Ahmedabad, it is 415 km way.
By Rail: The nearest station Veraval is at a distance of 6 km.
By Air: From Diu airport, Somnath is around 65 km away.
MAHABAT MAQBARA IN JUNAGADH
The Mausoleum of Bahaduddnbhai Hasainbhai is Gujarat’s very own Taj Mahal.
The first time I learnt about it was during my architectural course. The beautifully constructed Maqbara is a combination of Indo-Islamic, Neo-Gothic and European style of architecture.
This is indeed India’s one of the best-kept secrets in terms of architectural wonders.
The only thing I found lacking here was maintenance.
WHAT ALL I ATE IN GUJARAT?
Within a week, I got to munch on Kathiawadi thali twice.
Once in the middle of the Gir Forest at the Kathiawadi Restaurant and once at Patel Restaurant in Junagadh, I got lucky twice.
A typical Kathiawadi thali had dal (lentils), aalu (potato), baingan bharta (eggplant), papodam, chana (chickpea), raita (curd), aamras (mango puree), puri (chapatti), roti, types of chutneys and pickles. All of this is served with chaas (spiced buttermilk).
And it costs just 180 INR.
Being an eternal lover of Gujarati food and snacks, I had to hog on some Dhokla, Fafdha, jalebi, Khandwi and so much more.
I ended my trip with Jamun and Rabri shots at Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad.